Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (audio)

The Woman in White is a very engaging Victorian mystery by Wilkie Collins. I listened to an audio version dramatized by Beverley Cooper and was hooked. I wanted to listen to it constantly to find out what happened. Good thing I was able to make it to my meeting today instead of sitting in the car trying to finish the book.

The novel starts with a bang when Walter Hartright is on his way to his new commission as an art teacher when he runs into a mysterious woman dressed from head to toe in white. He helps her to escape to London only to find out later that she had in fact just escaped from a lunatic asylum. Walter arrives at his new post at Limmeridge Hall and meets his new students, half-sisters Marian Halcombe and Laura Fairlie. Laura is a beautiful heiress. Walter and Laura soon fall in love. Unfortunately, Laura is betrothed to another, Sir Percival Glyde. She promised her father on his death bed that she would marry Sir Percival. With misgivings, Laura marries Sir Percival and soon finds out the truth about the mysterious woman in white. I will not say more on the plot except that it is a thrilling read!

I liked the format of the book. It gave the story from multiple sources and view points, which I read that Collins used because of his legal training. This novel is also one of the first detective stories as Walter Hartright tries to solve the mystery of the woman in white and of what happened to Laura Fairlie.

I also loved the forthright Marian Halcombe, the “ugly,” but sharp half-sister of Laura. She is a great character and I found her more interesting than Laura who was slightly one-dimensional. I also liked the feminist aspects of the novel – it really points out the flaws in the laws during Victorian times when it came to women inheriting an estate.

Another interesting note is that as a young man, Collins had his own run in with a mysterious woman in white, who later became his mistress. I read this in the forward to my novel and was intrigued.


  1. I have heard this book is good and seeing it here on your blog makes me think that it is a sign to read... LOL

  2. I've heard a lot of other good things about this book as well, so I'll have to keep it in mind as a potential future read. Thanks for the review (from another Classics Challenge participant)!

  3. I, too, have heard a lot of good things about this book and your review makes it sound even better. Must put it on my list. Did you read this as an audiobook? If so, who was the narrator and were they good?

  4. I love a good gothic novel, but this one just left me cold. Presenting the story through courtroom testimonials was impersonal, and I didn't feel like I got to know the hearts of the characters. I had high expectations for this book, especially with the first appearance of the woman in white. I could really visualize that scene. However, as the story progressed I became increasingly disappointed. Although described as a feminist novel, I was disappointed when Mariam was too ill to continue her investigations. Also, when she asked Walter to allow her to help, he told her that her place was at home with Laura. I have read A LOT of gothic novels, and my negativity towards this one is mostly do to the fact that it just didn't hold up to the others. Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Northanger Abbey, Jamaica Inn, and more recently The Thirteenth Tale are all much better.

  5. Emily - you listed some of my favorite novels. I'll have to admit that while I enjoyed The Woman in White, I do agree that your list of novels are all better gothic tales.